Shaken or Stirred
James Bond, that debonair and worldly English secret agent that always seems to know far to much about far too many things always orders his Martini's "…shaken, not stirred".
I'm sorry Mr. Bond. But you're not providing a good example for budding cocktail enthusiasts. A Martini, and in fact any clear cocktail, is properly prepared by stirring and not shaking.
Of course, personal preference should always be followed in matters of food and beverage. If you like drinking Chardonnay with your Filet Mignon, so be it. If you prefer your Caesar salad without Anchovies, who am I to tell you that this is incorrect. And if you really prefer your Martini's to be shaken instead of stirred, fine. But I'd at least like the opportunity to share with you some information and insights regarding this debate so that you can make up your mind for yourself, instead of simply falling under the "peer pressure" being applied by the formidable Mr. Bond.
When debating the differences between a Shaken and Stirred Martini, it is common to hear people bring up the notion that "Shaking will bruise the Gin". Hogwash. This term is simply a quaint turn of phrase that has more poetry to it then fact. There is little, if any, taste difference between a Martini that has been shaken, to one that has been stirred. So what then is the issue? Why does it matter?
To understand this, you need to understand the differences of shaking and stirring. Both of these methods have their benefits, as well as their detriments.
Cocktails should be cold, the colder the better. And for this, shaking is the preferred choice. It is easier to chill a drink down by shaking it, then by stirring it. This is relatively easy to demonstrate.
Take two similar glasses, and put a single ice cube into the bottom of each. Now fill both with lukewarm water. Now, using a spoon or a fork, dip into one of the glasses and carefully move the ice cube slowly around in the glass, simply trying to make sure that the ice cube is able to spend some time in virtually all parts of the liquid. Do this for about 30 seconds. Now remove the ice cubes and stick in your finger, or better yet an instant read thermometer into each of the glasses of water. Which is colder?
The water in the glass that you moved the ice around it will be colder. This is because of the thermal conductivity properties of water, while pretty good, you are able to improve upon this speed by simply moving the ice cube around itself. Thus the more parts of the liquid that are "touched" by the ice cube, the quicker you will transfer cold from ice to liquid.
Shaking provides this same benefit over stirring, because when you stir a drink, the vortex produced by stirring, even if you stir haphazardly and vigorously, doesn't provide as much "contact" throughout the liquid as shaking does. Shaking also will often result in breaking off small shards of ice, which because of the greater surface area exposed, will transfer their chill that much quicker.
So, shaking is better then stirring, right? Well, no. Stirring has an important benefit over shaking.
As any fine chef knows, presentation is a very important component in any dish they prepare. The same is true for cocktails. There are some cocktails that consist only of basically clear ingredients, most well known, as well as perhaps the most clear, is the Martini. Such cocktails should be served with their clarity intact, looking almost like a fine gem resting within the bowl of your glass.
Unfortunately, shaking these drinks will trap air bubbles into them and cause them to cloud up. You can easily demonstrate this by putting milk into a cocktail shaker, shaking it for a while (even without ice), and then pour this into a glass. You'll notice that there is a foamy froth on the top of the milk. This is a result of the aeration action that shaking causes. Now pour another glass of milk, and simply stir it for a bit with a spoon. Few, if any bubbles will form on the top, and you easily could have avoided almost any bubbles forming by simply being a little more gentle and deliberate with your stirring.
While many may not realize this, water is an important part of almost any cocktail. During both shaking, and stirring, some of the ice will melt and add water to the drink. While it doesn't affect the taste much, to say that it doesn't affect the taste at all would be inconceivable. Just the right amount of water will soften the bite of the cocktail, and provide a gentle rounding out of the mouth feel. Too much water however, will turn the cocktail insipid.
Shaking, as already mentioned, will result in breaking off shards of ice, which will melt faster, thus add more water to the drink. Too much water? Only your taste buds will know for sure. Stirring on the other hand, won't chill the drink as fast, which means you need to stir a little longer in order to achieve the same cooling level, which will also result in more time for the ice to melt. Personally, I wouldn't be too surprised but that extending the stirring time just a little to chill the drink to the same temperature as shaking, will result in about the same amount of water dilution as shaking would.
From an efficiency standpoint, shaking allows the bartender to serve more drinks quicker. So if that was all there was to consider, shaking is the preferred method for mixing all cocktails. Unfortunately, shaking affects the presentation of the clear cocktails, and so a well-trained bartender will know that for any cocktails that consist only of clear ingredients (spirits, wines, bitters, cordials), they should take the little extra effort to stir these drinks so as to produce the best looking presentation.
I expect some of you will continue to hold on to your belief that a shaken Martini tastes better then a stirred one. Such a choice is totally your prerogative, but perhaps, just perhaps, you owe it to yourself to try a little taste test to see if you actually can taste a discernable difference.
Update: Health Benefits Somebody recently pointed me at an article by the British Medical Journal, in which research appears to indicate that a shaken Martini is healthier then a stirred Martini.
Ok, so thats even more reason to stir your Martinis. I mean who wants their Martini to actually be healthy!